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  • by Blaine Helwig

Classroom Rules – Why, How Many and Which Ones?

According to Exodus, Moses climbed Mt. Sinai, and God gifted him the Decalogue – Ten Commandments that provided a foundation of conduct to guide the people of Israel. During my catechism days as a child, we were required to memorize the Decalogue verbatim. I still have the laws committed to memory, and regardless of one’s personal religious or spiritual beliefs, the Ten Commandments and other great Religions provide basic human rules of conduct that remain both timely and reasonable to this day. In the Decalogue, God has ten rules, but how many classroom rules should a teacher require?

Elementary Classroom Rules – Why and How Many?

The Decalogue contains ten rules for general human conduct. Out of respect for the Almighty and in my personal and professional opinion, a classroom teacher should limit their posted classroom rules to a number that can be efficiently and pragmatically enforced – after all, these are rules to personally empower children to choose their behavior and the consequence, if they choose not to abide. Finally, heightened time on task is critical to student learning – in an earlier blog, I broke down the cost in time of a daily loss of 15 minutes of instruction. It was determined that the loss of 15 minutes of academic instructional time each day equates to a total yearly loss of a little less than 8.5 school days. On point, effective classroom management and efficient daily routines are directly proportional to time on task that leads to heightened student achievement.

As an urban Title 1 principal, I recommended teachers at my school limit their rules to five or less for a couple of basic reasons. First, more classroom rules means it is harder for children to remember them all. I visited a classroom a couple of years ago where the teacher posted a total of eighteen (18) classroom rules. As an adult, I would have difficulty remembering that many rules. Fortunately, the classroom with all those rules was highly effective and efficient, but the adjacent classroom required only four (4) posted rules to operate similarly. Second, a simple set of classroom rules cannot sufficiently cover every specific conduct situation. So, fewer and more general classroom rules is just as effective as a slew of specific conduct conditions.

Elementary Classroom Rules – Which Rules should a teacher select?

Professionally, I advocate a select number of generally written classroom rules with explicitly defined clarity. The classroom rules must be in plain view in the classroom, and above all, they must be consistently and fairly applied to all students. If not, students will view the classroom rules as unfair. I also recommend the teacher expressly communicate by way of specific and kid language examples the general meaning of the rules to the students. As a final caveat, a teacher should select specific rules that can control the learning environment. It is their classroom. They must be allowed to be comfortable and own it – as long as their student management system is effective, efficient and equitable – and above all, academic and social student performance is realized.

For example, three (3) generally written classroom rules are presented below.

These general rules are effective, if and only if, the children understand what ‘Be Respectful’ specifically means. At the onset of the school year, the classroom teacher should provide specific examples of what this behavior ‘sounds like’ and ‘looks like.’ For example, ‘Be Respectful’ means all students must raise their hand and wait to be called upon to speak. It also means all students must treat each other politely as a family. It is advisable to consider role playing in demonstrating implicit meaning. General rules are a viable means to operate a class if students are properly guided with specific examples of a rule’s broad meaning. Finally, all questionable student conduct can be categorized in these three simple rules with corresponding and appropriate consequences. However, it is relatively easy to reason and guide children who do not abide in accordance to the posted classroom rules. Yesterday can’t be changed and neither can inappropriate conduct. It is yesterday’s news, but educators must use the opportunity to guide and coach students so they can choose to make better decisions – today and tomorrow.

The importance of the teacher as the primary role model for his or her students cannot be overstated. The teacher’s respectful speaking manner, physical attire and general countenance will be duly noted by students both consciously and unconsciously. Classroom teachers must always be cognizant that they are constantly demonstrating the meaning of their own three classroom rules in the daily interactions with their students – in all they say and do at school.


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